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Pelageya sings “Under Willow”

When I was asked to write a blog about my favorite vocal pieces I had some doubts:  Am I a good story teller? Is my English good enough to tell it the way I’d like? How do I choose just four pieces out of so many favorites? Actually, what are the criteria anyway … ?

The only certain thing was—if I do it, I will start with a Russian folk song. Because folk songs are the reservoir of Russian vocal treasure and because they are personal to me. My first steps into the world of music and singing were made with folk songs.

I grew up with a grandmother who was always singing: while doing housework, picking
mushrooms and berries in the woods, taking a rest… From her I heard most of them: happy and sad songs, songs for work and holidays, wedding songs, funeral ones, funny and joking ones.  One can express anything and everything with a song. A folk song is like a prayer, a meditation. It clears one’s soul and brings comfort to one’s heart.

For this blog I’ve picked out the Russian folk song “Under Willow”. Most folk songs are anonymous, but the names of the writers of some are known. The lyrics for this song belong to Nikolay Veryovkin, the officer of Nevsky Infantry. He fought in the Russian-Persian War of 1826-1828, the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829 and the Polish Campaign of 1830-1831. The song pictures a wounded Russian warrior lying under the willow, watching a black raven flying over his head. In Slavonic mentality and folklore black raven is a prophetic bird that lives up to 300 years, keeps secrets, leads to hidden treasures, predicts death. In songs this ominous bird often flies over battlefield and then brings families news of their son’s or husband’s death.

The dying warrior asks the raven to fly to his motherland and tell his father, mother and wife that they shouldn’t expect him to return.

Under the green willow
The wounded cossack was lying
Oy du, under the green one
The wounded cossack was lying.

A raven bird over him was flying,
Began croaking loudly.
Ay du, raven wouldn’t fly
Hadn’t he smelled a good bite.

Black raven, don’t croak over my head,
I am still a cossack alive.
You’d better fly to my father’s and mother’s home,
Give the kerchief soaked in my blood
To my young and lovely wife.

Tell them, raven, that I’d got married
To another girl.
That I’ve found a bride
In the open field, across the river.

Was our wedding quiet, subdued,
Under the willow bush,
Oy du, quiet, subdued
Under the willow bush…

The matchmaker was the saber sharp,
The best man was bayonet of damask steel.
Oy du, saber sharp
And the bayonet was the best man.

A swift bullet married us fast
And motherland wed us.
Oy du, swift bullet
and motherland us wed.

I chose this song because it resembles the northern folk songs from the region where I was born and raised—Komi Republic. Northern songs are different from other regions; they inherited the melodies and the moods of the nations that lived in those parts of Russia. They reflect the northern landscape—wild nature, a lot of snow, rivers and swamps. And they resemble, more then other types of Russian songs, a prayer or a meditation.

In conclusion, I’d like to introduce the performer. The soloist is Pelageya, a Russian singer who debuted on stage as a little girl. She remains one of the public’s favorites. She sings Russian folk songs, romances and pop songs. At 13, after winning a number of vocal competitions, she received an invitation from the great Russian cellist, outstanding musician and public figure Mstislav Rostropovich to perform at the Evian Music Festival, alongside with Evgeny Kissin, Ravi Shankar, Paata Burchuladze, B.B. King. Galina Vishnevskaya, in her French Press interview, called Pelageya “the future of the opera world”. I’m sure the singer would have been a great success, had she chosen opera. But I’m also happy for the choice she has made. Thanks to her arrangements, folk songs acquire new, sometimes unexpected sounds, and become hits with young audiences, ensuring this genre continues to thrive.

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